Thursday, 19 June 2014

Open Source Mapping: GPS Trails on Campus

The following map shows the GPS trails of people who have walked around the University of Leeds campus area and have then loaded their data onto OpenStreetMap. OpenStreetMap is open source software by the OpenStreetMap Foundation and is a collaboration by its contributors providing free geographical data and mapping. Anyone can contribute by signing-up online. The data shown in the map below shows the walks made by people walking around campus while at the same time logging their route using GPS software on their smartphone. They have subsequently loaded this information onto OpenStreetMap. Some of the data on this map goes back to the campus dérives I did with Leeds Psychogeography Group in 2009 and our walks actually appear within the consolidation of trails you can see on this map.

© OpenSteetMap Contributors and CC Tim Waters

These lines are made up of tiny dots which are overlaid in places. The dots make up a trail by an individual, which can be seen when zooming into the map online. Each dot represents the moment when the GPS picked up a signal of that individual’s location. The darker the line, the more people have carried out this process while walking that particular route. Speed is indicated by a greater gap between dots. Pauses appear as a density of dots. The GPS device might indicate a route taken on a cycle or, also, in a car.

What is interesting about the above map is that no map outline is included in the image, nevertheless the outline of the campus appears in the accumulation of dots, as you can see by looking at this map which is taken from the Chamberlin, Powel and Bon Development Plan.

© University of Leeds and Chamberlin, Powell and Bon

This map (and the previous one on Blue Plaques) show the infinite possibility for cartographies to become ways of presenting personal and qualitative information while also handing over a degree of control of the mapping process and end result to the user/cartographer. The open source software that is often used for these types of collaborations also, to a large extent, disengages it from capitalist production and, hence, provides much more freedom of expression, production and distribution.

Related Links:
Open Source Mapping: Blue Plaques on Campus


  1. For a few years while OpenStreetMap was getting going we didn't have permission to use any aerial imagery, and at that stage accumulating lots of GPS traces like this was the only way we could determine where the streets are.

    Have you seen what the Leeds uni area looks like on this: